Folk Artist Peter
Hunt was a talented folk artist, a self-made celebrity and a relentless
entrepreneur who made a name for himself with his peasant decorations from the
1930s through the 1960s. A friend of the wealthy, the artistic and the odd-ball,
Peter Hunt and his Peasant Village was a well-known fixture
on Cape Cod, where summer visitors could run into one of his easily recognizable
friends, including high-powered executives like James Keating of Chicago, the
savvy cosmetics queen Helena Rubenstein, the scandal-stirring opera singer Ganna
Walska and, of course, the now-famous Provincetown artists John Whorf, Bruce
McKain and Frederick Waugh.
Hunt had a habit of embellishing, not just in furniture decoration, but in
stories about his beginnings. A longstanding Cape Cod legend (that Hunt
originated and promoted) held that he first arrived in Provincetown in the early
1920s when the yacht Hunt shared with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald was forced to
take safe harbor in the face of a storm. Wearing a sweeping black cape and a
black broad-rimmed hat, holding the leashes of his playful afghan hounds while a
red-headed dwarf scurried behind, Hunt said he strolled the streets of the
village and declared, “This is a wonderful place. I must stay here.”
No matter how dramatic (or ordinary) his arrival, Hunt did stay in
Provincetown, bringing his parents, Ma and
Pa Hunt, and
establishing himself as a folk artist and furniture director at his collection
of shops called Peasant Village. On what he christened Peter Hunt Lane, an alley
that spilled onto Commercial Street, he employed talented young people to
decorate the stools, tables, dressers, trays and other household goods in his
trademark peasant style that became so popular in the 1930s and ‘40s. Among his
apprentices are now well-known modern impressionists
Nancy Whorf Kelly
and Carol Whorf Wescott.
Hunt’s work was originally “discovered” by the well-to-do summer people on
Cape Cod, who found his colorful peasant decorations the perfect accents for
their cottages and retreats. They also found Hunt to be charming, witty and a
great addition to cocktail parties and dinners, and his mailbox was filled with
invitations from the upper crust of Boston and New York.
Soon the buyers from upscale department stores, including Bloomingdale’s,
Gimbel’s and Macy’s, got wind of society’s latest
in home decoration, and they clambered for Hunt to decorate more and more
furnishings and knick-knacks for their stores, often featuring him in special
promotions touted with full-page ads in the New York and Boston newspapers.
When the United States began fighting in World War II, Hunt brought a new
angle to his work: he could show anyone how to “transform old furniture into
new” (with a sponsoring line of paints from Du Pont, of course), so people could
continue to conserve and recycle as the wartime government had enjoined. His
booklets for Du Pont Nemours, How to Transform Old Furniture into New in
1943 and Transformagic in 1945 were immensely popular, especially after
Life, House Beautiful, and Mademoiselle magazines published
feature stories and photo spreads about Hunt and his furniture decorating
As his success grew, Peter Hunt used his influence to bring along other
artists. He discovered the works of American primitive artist George Edwin
Lothrop piled in a corner of a Boston thrift shop, and worked to revive
interest in the almost-forgotten "Poet King." When
Jack Amoroso was a fledgling artist
looking for work as a Peasant Village apprentice, Peter Hunt took one look at
Amoroso's paintings and immediately set up the young man in his own shop on
Peter Hunt Lane. Today, Amoroso is a well-know Modern expressionist artist in
Coconut Grove, Fla.
After the war, when trade with Europe re-opened and new styles in home
furnishings could be imported, Hunt’s wealthy clients began looking abroad for
interior designs. Taking advantage of the resurgence in industry and trade, Hunt
began creating designs for mass market sales, and his peasant images and
embellishments could be found on Meyercord decals, Rideau pottery, and Jerywil
woodcrafts. Despite his efforts, the public’s interest in his peasant designs
began to wane.
Hunt decided to sell Peasant Village’s properties in 1959, saying “When a
customer complains about the price of a $2.50 Christmas ornament, well, then I
know there’s no more money in Provincetown.” He opened Peacock Alley in Orleans
on Cape Cod the following year.
At Peacock Alley, Hunt invited other artists to open shops in the rambling
house, including glass artisan Bill Sydenstricker. Hunt opened his own eclectic
shop, selling a combination of antiques and his peasant decorated furnishings,
with his former apprentice
Nancy Whorf Kelly,
now grown, decorating a number of pieces on consignment that Hunt would sign and
Those last years were devoted to exploring new forms of art and crafts. Hunt
experimented, with some success, with decoupage
and his own version of psychedelic art in an effort to attract a new audience.
One night, in April 1967, Peter Hunt went to bed, fell asleep and never
woke up. A coroner later declared the cause of death as a heart attack. A
reporter attending Hunt’s funeral said of the varied people in the crowded
chapel “there was at least one millionaire and one beach comber.”
The following year, Hunt’s estate was auctioned off, with the artworks and
goods left from both the Peacock Alley shop and his home, garnering only
For many years, Hunt’s pieces drifted from public notice, many forgotten in
attics or sold at tag sales. But, in the past 10 years, as interest in
restoration has strengthened along with a fascination with folk art and
antiques, Hunt pieces are finding a new audience.
Cape Cod and New England homes Hunt pieces again take center stage as interiors
and exteriors are decorated to reflect homes of days gone by. Across the
country, Hunt’s peasant designs command superlative prices at antique shops,
estate sales and online auctions.
Hunt is back – again.
This web site is designed to celebrate Peter Hunt’s life and his art, and to
provide a place for people to learn, share stories and ask questions about the
If you have a Peter Hunt piece or want to ask something about his work, or
if you have a story about him, we hope you’ll click on the Angel icon (below) to
As the weeks go by, we’ll update this site with your contributions and
additional information and links to keep the spirit of Peter Hunt alive.
PICTURE CREDITS: A coffee
table complete with illustrated tea service was decorated by Peter Hunt in the
early 1950s (top), courtesy of private collector in Nantucket; the portrait of
Peter Hunt by Provincetown artist Samuel Oppenheim (center left) is part of an
exhibit at the Provincetown Heritage Museum - Pilgrim Monument Museum; an old
postcard pictures Peter Hunt Lane back in the late 1940s, courtesy of the
Provincetown Heritage Museum (center right); artist Richard Elloward created
this painting of Peacock Alley in Orleans, now a collector's print.
Webmaster Lynn Van Dine has written articles about Peter Hunt for
several national publications, including
Cape Cod Life
Artist’s Journal. After almost a decade of
research, her book,
The Search for Peter Hunt,
is now available through the publisher,
The Local History Company.
To order copies of "The Search for
Peter Hunt," or for retail locations, visit publisher
The Local History Company.
Copyright 2003 Lynn Van Dine